Editor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between KSAT and the San Antonio Business Journal.
The San Antonio Zoo plans to develop one of the largest gorilla habitats in the U.S.
The roughly $15 million Congo Falls project is part of a $65 million first phase of a larger planned zoo expansion and will address a decades-old void.
“Great zoos have gorillas,” San Antonio Zoo CEO Tim Morrow said. “We haven’t had gorillas in 32 years.”
San Antonio’s zoo is one of the largest in the nation, Morrow said, without such a large gorilla attraction. The nearest gorilla experience is in Houston.
San Antonio’s old gorilla exhibit was called Congo Falls. Morrow said the new attraction is a nod to the zoo’s past and will be developed in an underutilized portion of the park.
“It’s an abandoned area,” Morrow said.
The phase I expansion will also feature a new gateway project and approximately $15 million in infrastructure improvements for the more than century-old midtown attraction.
Zoo officials are working with St. Louis-based PGAV Destinations on design plans for the 2-acre Congo Falls project. What’s known so far is that the habitat will be constructed in the northwest corner of the park site near Hildebrand Avenue and U.S. Highway 281 and will include two large outdoor areas.
The naturalistic habitat will have indoor, climate-controlled space for the gorillas and a medical facility. It will offer zoo guests multiple ground level and elevated viewing areas.
The emphasis, Morrow said, will be on ensuring world-class animal care. The gorillas will come from accredited zoological facilities based on recommendations by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ species survival coordinator for gorillas.
Morrow’s team is also consulting with other zoological industry experts on the planned project.
“We really want this to be top notch,” Morrow said, noting it will be an immersive experience. “You can’t really tell where the exhibit starts or ends.”
The zoo had initially sought $30 million from the city of San Antonio’s 2022 municipal bond program to help cover the costs of its first-phase expansion. Now, zoo officials are hoping to secure $10 million in bond money and another $10 million from the city’s Midtown TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) program.
City Council is expected to vote on a potential bond allocation for the zoo on Feb. 10. A decision on possible TIRZ funding could come later this month.
Morrow said his organization will need to raise the balance of funding.
“We’re actively fundraising,” he said. “We’re going to have to ask the county for help. We’re getting funding from wherever we can get it.”